Msn To Cancel `Shows,' Lay Off 50 Workers

Microsoft's much-touted effort to get into the online entertainment business with TV-like "shows" created by recruits from Hollywood and New York officially comes to an end next month. About 50 employees, including 40 full-time employees and 10 contract workers, will lose their jobs.

All entertainment programming for The Microsoft Network (MSN) will cease March 31 as the company continues its shift toward more revenue-generating online sites such as its car-buying, travel and investment guides.

Most of the laid-off employees will be able to find positions with other product groups within Microsoft, said Ed Graczyk, lead product manager for MSN.

Microsoft will stop producing nine online shows and will feature its other content with a Web site to be launched later this year. The site, Microsoft Start, will serve as a starting point for Internet users and will compete with Yahoo, Excite and similar sites.

"With the exception of games, pure entertainment is not what people find most valuable on the Web," Laura Jennings, MSN vice president, said in a statement. "What they're looking for are tools and services that enable them to get everyday things done faster and more easily online."

When Microsoft unveiled its television-style approach to MSN in October 1996, analysts raved about the hip, MTV-style programming. About 15 shows were being picked up from outside producers through a Microsoft production "studio" called M3P. At its peak, the network carried about 30 shows.

Over the past year it became clear the shows were not drawing large audiences. Microsoft began cutting shows and laying off contract workers about a year ago and phased out the M3P studio in the fall.

The shows to be canceled next month include @Watercooler, a workplace program; Getworking, a career guide for 20-somethings; Music Central, about pop and other forms of music; and Cinemania Online, about movies. The only show whose status is still unclear is UnderWired, about women's health and other issues. Officials would not elaborate on its status.

MSN still will feature the MSNBC news site, Slate political/cultural magazine, Carpoint car-buying guide, Expedia travel service, Sidewalk entertainment guides, Computing Central service for computer users, Internet Gaming Zone, and two financial services, Microsoft Investor and Money Insider.